picture via Cake Picture Gallery
I think I was about ten when my mother took the Wilton cake decorating course.
Cake wasn’t a frequent thing in my home up to that point. It got trotted out mostly for birthdays. Even most holiday meals didn’t end with cake. Thanksgiving was pumpkin pie and a steamed pudding, Christmas was usually a fun dessert made of crushed candy canes frozen in whipped cream (too delicious for words!). The only holiday that had a cake attached was Easter, when Mom would bake a cake in the cast iron lamb mold, cover the white frosting with shredded coconut and surround it with brightly colored jelly beans. Birthdays didn’t include much decoration. Just cakey, chocolatey goodness.
But once Mom got a piping bag in her hand and a couple lessons, world watch out! Suddenly the kitchen bulged with different shapes and sizes of cake pans. She got a huge selection of decorative tips to play with. Chocolate was no longer the goal, but the first step on the journey to cake. Sure, the flavor was nice, but what was it going to look like?
The cakes, sadly, became boxed mixes and the frosting a Crisco ‘buttercream’ that tasted like sweetened sawdust… but they sure looked pretty.
Her finest effort was probably a gorgeous pastoral scene on sheet cake with a castle built at one end and dozens of fabulous flowers growing out of a bright kelly green swathe of frosting grass. Alas! one of the cats managed to get up on the table and stepped right in one corner of the cake. Never one to be phased for long by disaster, Mom whipped up a bit more frosting, added a touch of black food coloring, and carefully built up a frosting well to cover the damage. That corner was not served, and nobody noticed that there was any problem.
For my part, well, I don’t decorate my cakes so much. I bake from scratch, use butter in my buttercream, and worry a lot more about the flavor of the beast than the look. If I manage to make it pretty, that’s nice, but it’s a bonus rather than the point of the exercise.
Every once in a while, though, I do think fondly of Mom’s cakes. And then I wonder if I should try picking up a properly-tipped pastry bag and see what I can do with a cake that really tastes good.